Sarcasm: Evidence of Genius
Sarcasm and ‘figures of speech’ are as old as language itself. From the Ivy League professor of literary criticism to the Oxbridge linguist. Or from the illiterate farmer to the naked tribesman with a bone in his nose. No matter the language or the region of the world they all understand and use sarcasm and similar. Yes, in varying degrees of application and contexts.
Most surprisingly, it appears that sarcasm and ‘figures of speech’ (the supposed stuff of literary genius) are new recreations. 21st Century “cultural imports” into Nigeria from the West. The novelty of sarcasm and co as “imported” is something that causes present-day authors and the literati delight. Check two or more Nigerian literary types meeting. The subject under examination is literature and commentary. The happiest moment of their conversation is when they agree “Nigerians do not get it” [i.e., sarcasm, irony, and satire]. I want to know of any of the over two hundred Nigerian languages that are devoid of sarcasm and co.
Good or great writers lead readers (in taste and style), literary markets and literary education. They do not wait and hope for readers to “get it” like some Olympian conquest. Ironically, only faux, or mediocre authors and literati will complain about readers not “getting it”, for their books or in general. Try reading Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, which were sometimes agonising reading experiences for me. Did Joyce bother an iota about whether any of his readers would “get it”.
The Chinua Achebe’s criticism of the portrayal of the language of Africans in the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a point of reference. Chinua Achebe’s writing is effortlessly in the league of VS Naipaul, Ernest Hemmingway, Sinclair Lewis, Patrick White, Nadine Gordimer, Samuel Beckett etc. Nobel Laureates who wrote in the English language. Achebe did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Reason: for challenging the portrayal of African people lacking the capability to make a speech (thus figures of speech) in the Heart of Darkness. Achebe had no choice but to characterise Conrad as a “bloody racist”.
The Western academy not taking kindly to the comment, were to render him an eternal outsider unworthy of recognition. This was “how dare you speak beyond your place?” treatment. Achebe was an African after all. But he was instrumental in making African literature worthy of high critical consideration. Achebe never had worries about readers “getting it”, six decades ago.
Moreover, we have commentators commentators and literati who aggrandise themselves by telling other Nigerians ‘What they do not know’. Not through their writing (which should be an invaluable medium for getting their messages across to readers and their trade). But via mere comment often with condescension. Somehow, they endorse the very perception of Africans Achebe was fighting to eradicate. It is disturbing when authors and the literati to affirm at any opportunity that Nigerians are crude. Not sophisticated enough “to get” their writing/commentary or that of their cronies. Still, they claim their worthiness of winning literary prizes. Who are they then writing for?
Nevertheless, “Getting it” is perhaps now evidence of literary ability and genius all by itself in Bongo. Sakpakpobi! If “getting it” has become “the criterion” for understanding and appreciating Nigerian literature, I laugh. I can say with full conviction “I do not get it”.